Walmart's PhonePe zips past Google Pay in India as UPI tops 2B monthly transactions

Manish Singh
·4-min read
Sameer Nigam, co-founder and chief executive officer of PhonePe, speaks during a product unveiling in Bengaluru, India, on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. Phone Pe is the digital payments unit of Flipkart Online Services Pvt, India's biggest online retailer. Photographer: Samyukta Lakshmi/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Sameer Nigam, co-founder and chief executive officer of PhonePe, speaks during a product unveiling in Bengaluru, India, on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. Phone Pe is the digital payments unit of Flipkart Online Services Pvt, India's biggest online retailer. Photographer: Samyukta Lakshmi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

UPI, a four-year-old payments infrastructure built by India’s largest banks, surpassed 2 billion transactions last month, exactly a year after hitting the 1 billion monthly transactions milestone.

Driving the transactions for UPI -- which has become the most popular digital payments method in India thanks to its open architecture that allows interoperability among all participating payments apps -- are Walmart’s PhonePe, Google Pay, Paytm and Amazon Pay.

“Unlike China, we have given equal opportunities to both small and large domestic and foreign companies,” said Dilip Asbe, chief executive of NPCI, the payments body behind UPI, in an earlier interview. The 2.07 billion UPI transactions in October processed $51.9 billion in value, up from $25.7 billion in October 2019. Asbe has previously said that NPCI is planning to expand UPI outside of India.

For the first time in more than a year, Google Pay did not drive the most volume of UPI transactions. PhonePe recorded 835 million UPI transactions in October, it said, while Google Pay hit about 820 million, according to people familiar with the matter.

Paytm recorded about 245 million transactions, while Amazon Pay settled with about 125 million, the people said.

In a statement, PhonePe confirmed that it assumed the "market leading position" with more than 40% of the market share in UPI. Google did not immediately respond to request for comment.

A Paytm spokesperson told TechCrunch, "Paytm offers a range of funding sources to its customers: Paytm UPI, Paytm Wallet, Paytm Payments Bank account, Debit card, Credit card and net banking. Overall, the transactions through these funding sources have grown over 20% in the month of October. Person-to-merchant (P2M) constitute over 70% of the total transactions."

TechCrunch could not determine how many unique monthly transacting users these payments firms have amassed in the country. In May, Google Pay had about 75 million transacting users, ahead of 60 million of PhonePe and 30 million of Paytm.

Unlike Google Pay, both Paytm and PhonePe also operate a wallet service. The wallet service is not powered by UPI. PhonePe said overall it processed 925 million transactions (UPI + wallet) last month and had more than100 million monthly active users.

PhonePe has recently seen a surge in its transactions as more offline shops open and merchants and consumers opt for a digital alternative to complete transactions. The app has also added a range of financing services, including 600,000 insurance policies, it said. PhonePe has also benefited from Flipkart's festival sale and the growth of fantasy sports app Dream 11.

“We are on a mission to make digital payments a way of life for every Indian citizen, and our next target is to cross 500 million registered users by Dec 2022. In line with our brand ethos of 'Karte Ja. Badhte Ja,' (Hindi for keep working and growing) we continue to launch new and innovative products for every strata of Indian society, as well as enable digital payment acceptance across every merchant in every village and town in India,” said Sameer Nigam, chief executive and founder of PhonePe, in a statement.

As the market grows, some top payments firms in the country have also had differences among themselves. Google temporarily pulled the app of Paytm, India's most valuable app, in September for repeated violations of Play Store guidelines. Paytm alleged that Google's Pay app engages in a similar set of practices and has since launched its own store and formed an informal coalition with other top startups in India to cut reliance on Android maker.

Industry executives have also claimed that Google Pay, which like other popular payments app in India bandies out cashback to users for making some transactions, uses UPI payments for such payments -- a move they said helps Google increase the volume of UPI transactions it processes through its app. India's mobile payments market is estimated to reach $1 trillion by 2023, according to Credit Suisse.

But these are not all the issues that these payments firms confront today. At least those on UPI are also struggling to make any money from it. At an event in Bangalore late last year, Sajith Sivanandan, managing director and business head of Google Pay and Next Billion User Initiatives, said current local rules have forced Google Pay to operate in India without a clear business model.

And things are about to get tougher as more players are expected to join the race. WhatsApp, which has over 400 million users in India, started testing UPI payments on its app in 2018. It remains stuck in a regulatory maze, however, which has prevented it from rolling out WhatsApp Pay to most of its users in the country.